Opening Up: Exploring emotional intimacy
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
At its core, emotional intimacy is the mutual seeing, knowing, and understanding of one another’s inner worlds. It is a dynamic process, not a static state. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it feels nourishing and smooth, sometimes it’s clunky and imperfect.
Allowing different perspectives
I wonder what would happen to the emotional intimacy in your relationship/s if you were relating from an assumption that you and your partner/s won’t always agree, that you will innately have different perspectives on almost every single thing- even a moment that you shared together. Instead of being put off by your partner seeing something differently than you do, what if you instead got curious about how they got there?
Validation before argumentation
A part of the back-and-forth of sharing one another’s internal worlds is determining what the edges of each other’s perspectives will look like. Will they be rigid and cold, or will they be open and warm, seeking ways to find the truth in the other and even to integrate it? One of the ways you can embody allowing a perspective that is different than your is to validate after you’ve listened. Let me be really clear here- validation does not mean agreement or even endorsement. You can validate what you hear someone saying and still maintain a different perspective- and the validation is exactly what will encourage a feeling of spaciousness and connection between two people, despite difference in perspective.
Understanding before explanation
Similar to argumentation, explanation is still self-focused, essentially conveying how you landed where you did before you’ve truly understood your partner. While argumentation is an attempt to change the perspective of your partner, explanation is a defense of your own. Neither allows for much connection. If you feel tempted to explain away before you've understood your partner, try curiosity instead. The urgency around wanting to explain your view will likely subside once you understand where your partner’s at.
Owning your story
On the sharing end of things, it is common- in an attempt to share thoughts & feelings- to unintentionally make wide sweeping assumptions or interpretations of the objective truth in a moment without really owning it as just your own story. Without somehow saying “this is my perspective, not what I believe is the objective truth”, the likelihood that your partner might perceive an attack or criticism is higher. When we own “this is my story about this” or “this is my interpretation” it is less likely to be perceived as a criticism or attack.
Vulnerability and authenticity
Brene Brown uses the definition of vulnerability as the presence of “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. This is where you let the listener in beyond what they can observe externally. It is where feelings of closeness and connection are really nurtured. It’s really hard (maybe impossible?) to get here amidst argumentation, explanation, and criticism. Vulnerability and authenticity is what lies beneath all of that- and it’s easier to get to than you’d think once you remove the clutter.
Connection over symmetry
Without argumentation, explanation, and criticism- vulnerability and authenticity thrive. When people are authentic and vulnerable with one another, their uniqueness is also front and center. Emotional intimacy values connection over symmetry or likeness.
Recommended reading on emotional intimacy and the work that informs my perspective on emotional intimacy includes Fierce Intimacy by Terry Real.
Krissy Mulpeter specializes in Couples Therapy and lives in Eugene, Oregon. Read more about her here. You can also find her on Instagram.